Council gets tough on letting agents
Newham Council has claimed to be the first local authority in the country to tackle letting agents who are flouting the law.
An initiative by the council to tackle poor practice by lettings agents and protect tenants has helped to improve standards in the profession with the majority of agents now complying with the law.
Government offers guidance on how to rent
In June, the Department for Communities and Local Government launched a new guide for private rented sector tenants titled How to rent: the checklist for renting in England. With this guide the government want to give the country’s 9 million tenants access to understandable information for renting property in England.
Major letting agent backs all-custodial deposit protection
Eric Walker is Managing Director of Northwood UK and tweets at @justericwalker
We in the property industry have more common ground with the likes of Generation Rent and Shelter than many would think. Professional agents do an immense job and provide a valuable service to help protect consumers from the small minority of rogue agents. MPs call for regulation every day, yet the only group which can change the law is in fact the politicians who refuse to do so.
This Government wants agents to regulate themselves. Their reason is in no small part due to the horrors which would be uncovered if agents were forced to regulate. Clients' money should be held in a ‘ring-fenced’ client account, but while this may protect money from creditors, it is not ring-fenced from the agent. If their business is struggling, there is little point in seeking bank assistance and as such, clients' money is a very tempting resource.
Win £10k to set up a Community Land Trust
Would you like to take control of your area and create permanently affordable homes?
The Community Land Trust Network, supported by the Oak Foundation, is offering 20 grants of up to £10,000 each to support the set up or development of new CLTs in urban areas. CLTs are volunteer-led, community-run non-profit organisations that develop permanently affordable homes, workspaces or other land-based assets in their area. In addition to the cash grant, the CLT Network is also offering a package of training, advice and other support to the 20 winners.
Ministerial misconceptions about housing benefit
A recent government update on the UK’s benefit system revealed that five million people are claiming housing benefit. It’s therefore of no surprise that comments by the previous Minister of Housing, Kris Hopkins, regarding renting housing while receiving this benefit enraged and worried many, including MPs. In a Panorama documentary aired last month, Hopkins described the landlord’s right to evict those on benefits as “perfectly legitimate”, sparking fury amongst those who utilise this country’s financial support system. However, was Hopkins right? Is the tenancy completely dependent on the wishes of the landlord? Or, is this yet another case of discrimination against those who aren’t rich enough to be heard?
Landlords milking two days wages a week from tenants
Private renters spend 40% of their income on rent, compared with owner occupiers whose mortgage payments average 20% of income, according to the Government's English Housing Survey published this morning.
That means that renters spend two days a week working to pay off their landlords mortgage - most would prefer to be paying off their own, but house prices are far too expensive. It's hard to see how this could be characterised as anything other than exploitation.
An initial set of figures for 2012-13 was published in February - today's more detailed look reveals that:
- Only half of private renters agree that living in their sector is a good way to occupy a home, rather lower than in the other two main tenure groups.
- 73% of private renters were aged under 45 compared with 37% of social renters and just one quarter (27%) of owner occupiers
- A fifth of private renters last year were couples with children - up from 12% in 2008-09
- Over half (55%) of private renters said they anticipated owning their own home in the longer-term. Around a quarter (27%) reported that they expected to still be renting from a private landlord in the longer-term.
Half of renters feel ripped off
Nearly half of private renters feel they have been ripped off by their landlord or letting agent, according to a poll commissioned by Ocean Finance (reported by Mortgage Introducer).
The biggest problem, cited by around half of unhappy renters, was the delay - or, indeed, complete failure - to get repairs carried out. This was followed by withholding of the deposit at the end of the tenancy (37%), or making unreasonable deductions from it (25%). Unreasonable rent rises and rip-off admin fees at the start of the tenancy affected around 23% of respondents.
These findings support work Generation Rent is already doing to improve the lives of renters. Only yesterday we published a consultation on new ways to help tenants recover their deposits.
We are also calling on politicians to strengthen tenants' rights when requesting repairs by protecting them from revenge evictions. Our proposals for a long term tenancy would ensure that landlords couldn't impose inflation-busting rent increases, while we argue that letting agents - who work for landlords - should not be able to pass on fees to tenants. Further information is in our Renters Manifesto.
What to do about letting agents...
Yesterday I was asked a surprisingly difficult question. I was asked what I thought of charities and local authorities setting up "ethical" letting agencies. The fact is I haven't given huge amounts of thought to it - though our office is maintaining a watching brief on their activities and seeing what can be learnt.
So I had to retreat to an instinctive (and unpopular) no. It seems inconceivably that the state or non-profit sector could or should compete in this space cost effectively. We're glad they do so as they are a rare respite for people who are routinely exploited, but on being scrutinised on the issue, I just couldn't see how they could be scaled to have a beneficial impact for millions of people.
I have had a think now, and while I did so fully prepared to explain why I had been wrong and have changed my mind, I haven't. I really don't think such projects are a solution to the letting agency problem. But as a representative of a tenant advocacy group, this does bear some explaining.
MPs to debate housing supply on Wednesday
The government insists that it’s doing all it can to end the housing crisis by ramping up the rate of house building. So far it’s managed a modest bump, but earlier this week, we learned that it's forecasting another dip in 2014/15.
At a time when we need to double house building to keep rents and house prices affordable, to think that the government could allow a fall like this is staggering.
The Labour Party is calling a debate on the issue in Parliament next Wednesday, 9th July, to examine what has gone wrong and what can be done to boost supply.